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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Guest Blogger: Robert Benchley

MALIGNANT MIRRORS
                                                                                                              

I am mortified to discover that the unpleasant
looking man is none other than myself.
AS A RULE, I try not to look into mirrors any more than is absolutely necessary. Things are depressing enough as they are without my going out of my way to make myself miserable.

But every once in a while it is unavoidable. There are certain mirrors in town with which I am brought face to face on occasion and there is nothing to do but make the best of it. I have come to classify them according to the harshness with which they fling the truth into my face.

I am unquestionably at my worst in the mirror before which I try on hats. I may have been going along all winter thinking of other things, dwelling on what people tell me is really a splendid spiritual side to my nature, thinking of myself as rather a fine sort of person, not dashing perhaps, but one from whose countenance shines a great light of honesty and courage which is even more to be desired than physical beauty. I rather imagine that little children on the street and grizzled Supreme Court justices out for a walk turn as I pass and say "A fine face. Plain, but fine."

Then I go in to buy a hat. The mirror in the hat store is triplicate, so that you see yourself not only head-on but from each side. The appearance that I present to myself in this mirror is that of three police-department photographs showing all possible approaches to the face of Harry DuChamps, alias Harry Duval, alias Harry Duffy, wanted in Rochester for the murder of Nettie Lubitch, age 5. All that is missing is the longitudinal scar across the right cheek.

I have never seen a meaner face than mine is in the hat-store mirror. I could stand its not being handsome. I could even stand looking weak in an attractive, man-about-town sort of way. But in the right hand mirror there confronts me a hang-dog face, the face of a yellow craven, while at the left leers an even more repulsive type, sensual and cruel.

Furthermore, even though I have had a hair-cut that very day, there is an unkempt fringe showing over my collar in back and the collar itself, (a Wimpet, 14-1/2, which looked so well on the young man in the car-card) seems to be something that would be worn by a Maine guide when he goes into Portland for the day. My suit needs pressing and there is a general air of its having been given to me, with ten dollars, by the State on my departure from Sing Sing the day before.

But for an unfavorable full-length view, nothing can compare with the one that I get of myself as I pass the shoe-store on the corner. They have a mirror in the window, so set that it catches the reflection of people as they step up on the curb. When there are other forms in the picture it is not always easy to identify yourself at first, especially at a distance, and every morning on my way to work, unless I deliberately avert my face, I am mortified to discover that the unpleasant-looking man, with the rather effeminate, swinging gait, whom I see mincing along through the crowd, is none other than myself.

The only good mirror in the list is the one in the elevator of my clothing-store. There is a subdued light in the car, a sort of golden glow which softens and idealizes, and the mirror shows only a two-thirds length, making it impossible to see how badly the cuffs on my trousers bag over the tops of my shoes. Here I become myself again. I have even thought that I might be handsome if I paid as much attention to my looks as some men do. In this mirror, my clothes look (for the last time) as similar clothes look on well-dressed men. A hat which is in every respect perfect when seen here, immediately becomes a senatorial sombrero when I step out into the street, but for the brief space of time while I am in that elevator, I am the distingué, clean-cut, splendid figure of a man that the original blue-prints called for. I wonder if it takes much experience to run an elevator, for if it doesn't, I would like to make my life-work running that car with the magic mirror.

 – Life, June 29, 1922

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